‘We’re breaking down silos’: MGH partners with St. Michael’s Homes to roll out digital screening solution for staff

Woman holding a cellphone

MGH is helping its community partners launch a mobile screening tool at their sites to more efficiently ensure the safety of staff and patients.

Robin Griller, executive director at St. Michael’s Homes, understands an effective staff screening tool offers more than convenience.

It gives his staff confidence and peace of mind knowing they are entering a space where their colleagues are asymptomatic for COVID-19. This helps to reduce risk to all staff, residents and patients on-site.

“We have five different sites across Toronto and some of our programs run 24/7,” Robin says of St. Michael’s Homes, which offers counselling and rehabilitative services for men with lived experiences of substance use. “So it’s important we have a consistent, reliable way to help ensure the health and safety of our staff while they’re at work.”

It’s why Robin jumped at the opportunity to collaborate with Michael Garron Hospital (MGH) on the rollout of a mobile self-screening tool for his staff members.

Accessible through smartphones and other mobile devices, the tool allows staff to answer a series of screening questions to identify COVID-19 symptoms and minimize the risk of transmission. The questionnaire must be completed at the start of every shift by staff in settings such as community health centres, primary care and acute care.

The mobile self-screening tool has been used by MGH staff and physicians since September. It was developed by St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton (SJHH) and adapted for use at MGH with permission from and support by SJHH’s Digital Solutions team.

Now, MGH is paying it forward by ensuring its fellow East Toronto Health Partners (ETHP) organizations have access to the tool as well.

MGH’s IT team has been working closely with Robin to adapt the self-screening tool for use across St. Michael’s Homes’ five sites, two of which are located in East Toronto. The tool launched at St. Michael’s Homes last week.

“I think it’s great that we’re finding ways to extend our technological support to ensure our community partners are able to deliver care during the pandemic,” says Amelia Hoyt, chief information officer (CIO) at MGH. “We’re breaking down the silos that have historically been in place in our healthcare systems to better serve our patients and communities.”

The collaboration builds on the existing relationship between MGH and St. Michael’s Homes, both of which are members of ETHP, the Ontario Health Team (OHT) that serves East Toronto.

The self-screening tool developed by SJHH and adapted by MGH can be accessed via a computer or mobile device.

The self-screening tool developed by SJHH and adapted by MGH can be accessed via a computer or mobile device.

The opportunity to collaborate first came up during a virtual call among OHT partners, where ETHP leaders from community, primary care, home care, hospital and social services organizations in East Toronto come together to receive COVID-19 updates and recommendations from Dr. Jeff Powis, director of Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) at MGH.

Robin says these bi-weekly calls, which began at the start of the pandemic in March, have been integral in St. Michael’s Homes’ pandemic response.

“We feel so fortunate to be able to participate in these calls and to have a direct line of contact with infectious disease experts at MGH,” Robin says. “They’ve been able to advise us on areas like how to properly don and doff PPE [personal protective equipment] and how to quickly and efficiently respond to outbreaks so we can keep our staff and residents safe while continuing to offer our programs and services.”

Robin says the rollout of the mobile self-screening tool at St. Michael’s Homes in collaboration with MGH will give St. Michael’s Homes’ staff, which includes counsellors, psychotherapists and case coordinators, a reliable way to assess and mitigate risk.

Three other ETHP members have also expressed interest in adapting the tool for use across their sites. MGH’s IT team plans to work with these organizations to ensure they have access to it as well.

“Previously, we were asking our staff to use the provincial government’s online COVID-19 self-assessment but there was no way to monitor responses through this channel,” Robin says.

“With the mobile screening tool that MGH is assisting us with, we’ll be able to record our staff’s responses, instruct them to seek a COVID-19 test if they are experiencing symptoms and notify the appropriate parties, like staff responsible for occupational health and safety, of our employees’ status so the appropriate follow-up actions can be taken.”

In addition, Robin says the mobile screening tool “ensures clarity” around what is considered a symptom of COVID-19 because the questionnaire lists them out in detail.

He says an organization the size of St. Michael’s Homes, which employs about 45 staff and supports more than 900 individuals across inpatient and outpatient programs each year, typically does not have the capacity to develop its own technological solutions to facilitate processes like digital screening.

He’s grateful for the collaboration with MGH on this initiative. “For MGH to reach out to different community organizations to offer IT assistance on this project is amazing,” he says. “It can only mean positive things for our communities.”